CD Review: Bill Frisell's "East/West"

Bill Frisell's new live recording is one of the best of his career.


Salon Staff
August 16, 2005 11:45PM (UTC)

While Bill Frisell is unquestionably one of the major figures in jazz today, and a revolutionary guitarist who has genuinely changed the way people play and think about the instrument, his recordings over the last few years have been decidedly mediocre, the product of a restless musical mind in search of new terrain, and instead trampling clumsily over ground he'd already broken. One thing that has remained consistent, though, is Frisell's brilliance as a live performer, particularly in a trio setting. 1991's "Live," recorded with Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron, was a thrilling release, and it's been a long wait for a follow-up. Finally we have one in "East/West," two discs of live trio recording, "East" with bassist Tony Scherr, "West" with bassist Victor Krauss, and both with drummer Kenny Wolleson. And it was worth the wait: This is the most satisfying record he's released since 1999's "Good Dog, Happy Man," and one of the best of his career.

The two trios are vastly different. In general terms, the Krauss trio works by accumulation, presenting a monolithic block with Frisell using delay and loops to build up layers of sound, and aims to mesmerize, while the Scherr trio, which operates much closer to traditional jazz, works by disruption, refusing to entirely cohere, dislocating phrases mid-thought. Wolleson, essentially a groove player in the Krauss trio (and a monstrously good one), becomes an interactive, improvising presence in the Scherr trio.

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In both settings Frisell is a wonder, but if I had to pick a single track that shows the possibilities of what he's capable of these days in a trio setting, it would be the 14-minute "Ron Carter" off of "East." The piece begins with phasing, minimalist textures, and ends with an even more explicitly Steve Reich-ian passage, but in between Frisell lets loose with his full arsenal of sounds. There are plenty of great note improvisers and plenty of great sound improvisers, but very few, like Frisell, have a true mastery of both, and it can be awe-inspiring to hear him manipulating his sound with such creativity while simultaneously playing a solo that Jim Hall would be proud to have formulated. For any skeptics of modern jazz, this should be required listening.

While Bill Frisell is unquestionably one of the major figures in jazz today, and a revolutionary guitarist who has genuinely changed the way people play and think about the instrument, his recordings over the last few years have been decidedly mediocre, the product of a restless musical mind in search of new terrain, and instead trampling clumsily over ground he'd already broken. One thing that has remained consistent, though, is Frisell's brilliance as a live performer, particularly in a trio setting. 1991's "Live," recorded with Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron, was a thrilling release, and it's been a long wait for a follow-up. Finally we have one in "East/West," two discs of live trio recording, "East" with bassist Tony Scherr, "West" with bassist Victor Krauss, and both with drummer Kenny Wolleson. And it was worth the wait: This is the most satisfying record he's released since 1999's "Good Dog, Happy Man," and one of the best of his career.

The two trios are vastly different. In general terms, the Krauss trio works by accumulation, presenting a monolithic block with Frisell using delay and loops to build up layers of sound, and aims to mesmerize, while the Scherr trio, which operates much closer to traditional jazz, works by disruption, refusing to entirely cohere, dislocating phrases mid thought. Wolleson, essentially a groove player in the Krauss trio (and a monstrously good one) becomes an interactive, improvising presence in the Scherr trio.

In both settings Frisell is a wonder, but if I had to pick a single track that shows the possibilities of what he's capable of these days in a trio setting, it would be the 14-minute "Ron Carter" off of "East." The piece begins with phasing, minimalist textures, and ends with an even more explicitly Steve Reich-ian passage, but in between Frisell lets loose with his full arsenal of sounds. There are plenty of great note improvisers and plenty of great sound improvisers, but very few, like Frisell, have a true mastery of both, and it can be awe inspiring to hear him manipulating his sound with such creativity while simultaneously playing a solo that Jim Hall would be proud to have formulated. For any skeptics of modern jazz, this should be required listening.


Salon Staff

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